First Baptist Church (Knoxville, Tennessee)
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First Baptist Church
|Location||510 Main Ave., Knoxville, Tennessee|
|Area||3 acres (1.2 ha)|
|Built by||Worsham Bros.|
|Architect||Dougherty & Gardner|
|Architectural style||Classical Revival, Octagon, Other|
|MPS||Knoxville and Knox County MPS|
|NRHP Reference #||97000223|
|Added to NRHP||March 8, 1997|
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The congregation was founded in 1843 when a small group of Baptists led by James and John Moses met in the courthouse to adopt Articles of Faith and organize a church. It was affiliated with the Tennessee Association of Baptists, but became a member of the Southern Baptist Convention when that body was organized in 1845. After its first baptismal service in nearby First Creek, the church had 46 members, including 20 African-Americans. The church is believed to have organized its first Sunday School in 1845. The first building was constructed on Gay Street in 1850. The second building was constructed in 1888.
The third (and present) building was completed in 1924 at the Main Street location, three years after Dr. Frederick Fernando Brown became pastor. This architecturally-significant structure, noteworthy for its Neoclassical design and octagonal sanctuary, was designed by Dougherty & Gardner of Nashville, Tennessee, and is modeled on St Martin-in-the-Fields of London. The exterior of the church sanctuary is sheathed in marble, although the adjoining education space is brick.
The church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Twenty-seven men have served as pastor of First Baptist Church. In the early years pastors were called for just one year. Some served as short as three months. There were periods when the church had no pastor. The longest tenures were Dr. F.F. Brown (25 years) and Dr. Charles A. Trentham (21 years). Daniel William Phillips (1864) was never actually elected pastor. He was a missionary sent by the Home Mission Society to help reorganize First Baptist Church after the Civil War.
1843 Joseph A. Bullard
1844-49 Homer Sears
1852-58 Matthew Hillsman
1858 J.T. Wallace
1859-60 George Washington Griffin
1861 J.V. Iddins
1862-63 Lucian B. Woolfolk
1864 Daniel William Phillips
1866-67 Stephen H. Smith
1868-69 D.M. Breaker
1869 Frank C. Johnson
1870-73 Joseph L. Lloyd
1873-78 Jonathan Fleming Bingham Mays
1879-80 George Boardman Eager
1880-83 Charleton Hines Strickland
1883-88 Eugene A. Taylor
1889-93 Carter Helm Jones
1893-99 Robert R. Acree
1899-04 Montraville Walker Egerton
1905-06 W.M. Harris
1907-14 Joseph Judson Taylor
1915-20 Leonard Gaston Broughton
1921-46 Frederick Fernando Brown
1946-52 Henry J. Stokes, Jr.
1953-74 Charles A. Trentham
1975-77 Jesse C. Fletcher
1978-92 A. Douglas Watterson
1993-2002 David William Hull
2004–2013 William D. Shiell
The early days 1843-1872
When young James C. Moses came to Knoxville in 1838 to work as a printer for the semi-weekly newspaper, The Times, he attended First Presbyterian Church, and for a while directed the choir. When his brother, John, joined him in Knoxville, the young men began to wish for a Baptist church, Neither James nor John had been baptized, but they came from a solid Baptist background in Exeter, New Hampshire.
In 1842 there was no Baptist church in Knoxville. There were Methodist and Presbyterian congregations in this village of about 2,000 people, and out in the country several small Baptist churches met monthly on different farms. Through their friends in New Hampshire, the two young men approached the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and a missionary, Rev. J.A. Bullard, was sent to Knoxville in the fall of 1842.
On January 15, 1843, James and John Moses, with three young ladies and some "borrowed" Baptists from the rural churches, met in a room at the court house to adopt the Articles of Faith and organize a Baptist church. These "borrowed" Baptists agreed to come to town till the new church got started, and then they would go back to their own churches, primarily Third Creek, Beaver Dam and Beaver Ridge churches. Seven days later, January 22, the Baptist Church of Knoxville was constituted and met to hold the first church service. Six days after that, January 28, they had their first baptismal service in the cold Tennessee River near the mouth of First Creek.
First Creek at that time ran along in front of where the Coliseum is now and entered the river down behind Blount Mansion. It has all been covered over by highway now. In a report to the Mission Society, Rev. Bullard wrote: "Thousands of people witnessed the ceremony as they had probably never seen it before. They took positions on the elevated banks of the river, on the tops of homes, and in boats on the river. Three of the persons baptized were students at the East Tennessee University and one was a publisher." James Moses was baptized that day and John, the following May.
The new Baptist church had forty-six members: fifteen white men, eleven white women, eight black men and twelve black women. A letter of thanks was sent to the Baptist church in Exeter, New Hampshire on November 26, 1843, for the gift of a Bible, a hymnal and a communion service. This original church Bible is now in the church office. It was preserved by Miss Katie Roberts, descendent of the Moses family, and returned to First Baptist Church in the 1950s. The Bible is inscribed: "Presented to the Baptist Society of Knoxville, Tennessee by friends in Exeter, New Hampshire."
Rev. Bullard was 32 years old and single when he came to Knoxville. He stayed fourteen months (at a salary of about thirty dollars a month) and then went on to organize a church in Lebanon, Tennessee. The Home Mission Society next appointed Rev. Homer Sears, who was pastor for six years. He came at a difficult time, because many of the "borrowed" members were going back to their own churches. Rev. Sears reported to the Home Mission Society: "It has taken us all of the past year to undo the wrong doing of the preceding year. The prosperity of the church at first was artificial. In town also everything was sweeped up that had ever been in a Baptist church to swell the numbers. The year has been one continual scene of discipline. We have not yet ascertained our entire weakness. Several more of the borrowed members from the county are yet to return."
Rev. Sears estimated that the population of Knoxville was between two and three thousand and later wrote: "A comparatively small part of the community attend worship anywhere. We have five congregations, New and Old School Presbyterians, Protestant and Methodist Episcopal, and Baptist. Attendance at our meeting varies considerably, between 75 to 150."
According to E.E. McCroskey, early church historian, the first Sunday School in any Baptist church in East Tennessee was organized in Knoxville in 1845. Within two or three years there were several Sunday Schools in a number of Baptist churches in the area. By 1848 there were between 100 and 150 children attending Sunday School at the Knoxville Baptist Church. Each Sunday School collected a library, because learning to read was an important part of the Sunday School lesson. The books were largely gifts from northeastern churches, the American Baptist Home Mission Society and individuals. "The lesson began with questions and answers, after which the class read in turn from the Bible. This was followed by a lecture or story from the teacher. Each pupil who could read was given a book to read during the week."
By 1844 the church had 73 regular church members, approved a set of rules and was making plans for a building of its own. They paid $500 for a sixty-foot lot on Gay Street between what is now the Tennessee Theater and the KUB building. The property was purchased from William Swan, recorded October 21, 1844, at the court house. This lot was originally given by James White, founder of Knoxville, to East Tennessee College (predecessor of the University of Tennessee). A one-story brick building, 60' x 43', was built for $8,000 by contractor John Garven. The church had a small steeple, full basement and was lit by tallow candles in tin sockets.
The sanctuary of the almost-finished church was lit for the first time on December 4, 1849, for the wedding of Dora P. Moses (sister of James and John) to Joseph H. Walker. During this time the city would periodically appoint nightwatchmen to patrol Gay Street, walking past the Baptist Church from nine PM till daylight, to call out the time and state of weather at each hour. As late as 1849 there was still no regular police force in the city of Knoxville.
Money was a problem for the young church and though the church building was finished in 1850, it was not dedicated, because it was not fully paid for. The church at this time had 70 members, 39 of them black. A slave had to have his owner's permission to be baptized, but then was encouraged to attend church as well as Sabbath School. Since 1845 a Sabbath School for blacks had been quietly in existence at the Knoxville Baptist Church. Over seventy people—men, women, boys and girls—were enrolled and learning to read.
In a letter to the Home Mission Board, Pastor Sears wrote, "Several classes can read very well and have question books and are engaged in the study of the Bible." Later, he wrote again, "The school now has twelve white teachers and seventy-five students, mostly slaves, of whom one-third have already learned to read." Then Pastor Sears wrote about a new development. "A little girl, twelve years of age, who I baptized a few months ago, the daughter of an excellent sister in our church, has for some two months engaged in teaching a little school of colored children every Sabbath afternoon. She has two assistants, girls younger than herself, and about a dozen scholars. They have contrived to get together at the home of one of her assistants while her mother thought she was visiting. She is an unusually intelligent and well educated girl of her age, and has for two years given decided evidence of piety.
"I feel anxious to make her school the start of a permanent school. We are anxious to obtain a library for them. Could you not prevail on someone to send us the 100 volume library of the American Sunday School Union for this new school?" So as early as fifteen years before the Civil War, the Knoxville Baptist Church and a twelve-year-old teacher were quietly educating blacks in Knoxville.
The church schedule appears to have been somewhat different from what we know today. Prayer meetings were held weekly. The regular church service was once a month on Saturday and Sunday. Church communion was on the first Sunday of January, April, July and October. Sunday School was held when there was no preaching and lasted from early Sunday morning till late afternoon. The congregation brought their Sunday dinner with them and had a "social time at noon."
Having a monthly preaching service was likely the result of the fact that Rev. Sears had the responsibility of several other churches in the area. He was pastor at Third Creek Church, Fountainhead, Adair's Creek (now Smithwood) and Third Creek No.2. He also established a church in Tazewell, Tennessee. At times Rev. Sears received no salary and "became threadbare in clothing and in debt for his living." Yet according to records, he "prosecuted his work faithfully under these very trying conditions." Rev. Sears owned a horse to ride to his other churches in the county. Deacon John Smith kindly agreed to board his horse without charge. However, this meant that whenever Rev. Sears wanted to ride, he had to walk a little over five miles (8 km) to the Smith homestead to get his horse.
The Knoxville church had been a member of the Tennessee Association of Baptists since 1843. The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, but the Knoxville Baptist Church did not affiliate with the Convention until January 1848. The church had been started by the Northern Convention, and Rev. Sears had been sent by the American Home Mission Society, so for two years the Knoxville Baptist Church stayed with the Northern Convention. Through this period the church received both money and encouragement from the Baptists of New Hampshire.
Rev. Sears resigned in 1850, and the church was without a regular pastor until Dr. Matthew Hillsman came two years later. It was during this period that several women of the church were "tried". Some of the trials lasted a week adjourning each night. The charge, among others, was "lying and abusive language". The judgment was that they should "mutually ask and extend forgiveness". But two of the offending members resigned.
The church was very much in debt, and progress was slow under Dr. Hillsman. In 1856 an effort was made to rent the basement of the church for a secular school, but that did not materialize. At one time the church decided to rent pews, but this plan was unsuccessful and abandoned. One milestone: Gas lights replaced the candles in the church in 1856 when the gas works were constructed in Knoxville.
Fire was an ever-present problem, and fire fighting had been a civic responsibility since 1822, when the Knoxville Fire Company was established. All inhabitants of the town between the ages of fifteen and fifty were required to serve in the Fire Company. Every business was required to have a leather bucket on the premises that would hold at least two gallons of water. The city owned a small fire engine with a large reservoir which was filled by a bucket brigade extending to the creek. Later a cistern was built on the court house lot to hold rain water for use in case of fire.
In 1850 church membership had shrunk to 42, but doubled in the next three years. The year 1854 added only eight new members. This growth was said to be so small because the town was caught in an epidemic of Asiatic cholera and most people who weren't sick left town.
Knoxville had from the first been a trading center, and a farmers' market had been an important activity. In January, 1854, an ambitious new Market House opened and was in use until its removal in 1960.
About this time First Presbyterian Church tore down its building to construct a new one on the same site. For two years, while their new church was being built, First Presbyterian and Knoxville Baptist had services together. Each preacher spoke on alternate Sundays. In 1857 plans were made to have the church singing conducted by a choir, and a "musical director" was employed to train this first choir.
In March 1858 Rev. Hillsman resigned to become pastor of the Trenton, Tennessee, church. Rev. J.T. Wallace came from Richmond, Virginia, to be pastor of the Knoxville church, but stayed only three months. In 1859 George Washington Griffin came from Columbia, Tennessee, to serve as pastor for one year.
On July 4, 1859, Harriet Bailey, "a sister of color," joined the Knoxville church by letter from the African Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia. She was a slave, a fact that is known because free blacks could not change their residence from one state to another. The Baptist and Presbyterian denominations in Tennessee did not allow the formation of separate churches for blacks, but encouraged them to join established churches. The fact that Harriet Bailey came from the African Baptist Church in Georgia indicates that the Georgia Baptists permitted the formation of separate black churches. In Tennessee, only the Methodist church allowed blacks to form their own churches.
In 1860 under Rev. Griffin, the Baptist Church wrote new bylaws and adopted the first church covenant.
Up to the time of the Civil War there was little manufacturing in Knoxville, but by 1860 the city had become a major merchandising and distribution center. Gay Street had become the principal commercial street in the city. At the start of the Civil War there was great tension and disagreement in Knoxville. Many people, especially in the outlying areas, had strong Union sentiment, but the civil government was with the Confederacy.
The state of Tennessee sent 100,000 men to the Confederate Army and 30,000 to the Union Army. Tennessee was the last state to leave the Union and the last state to join the Confederacy. There was intense feeling in Knoxville. Emotion ran so high that one time when the churches printed posters to advertise a "Union Prayer Service" (meaning united between ail the churches in town), Confederate soldiers thought they were praying for the Union and shot up all the posters. All Knoxville pastors, except the rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, spoke out in support of the Confederacy and signed the loyalty oath. The Episcopal rector and many others of strong Union sentiment left town.
Now for the first time the Negro Baptists established a separate church. In the past black and white had services together with the blacks sitting in the balcony. Then, for a while, the blacks had their own service at the Baptist Church with their own preacher on Sunday afternoon. But now they wanted their own church building.
For almost a year, after Rev. Griffin left to take a church in Lebanon, the Baptist Church was without a pastor. Rev. J.V. Iddins came from Washington, D.C., for three months in late 1861. In 1862 thirty-three-year-old Lucien B. Woolfolk, a Kentucky native and graduate of Brown University, accepted as his first pastorate the Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Rev. Woolfolk stayed one year until the church was shut down when, in 1863, as a result of General Ambrose Burnside's victory over General James Longstreet, the Union Army was firmly established in Knoxville. The St. John's rector was reinstated, and his church was the only one allowed to have services. All the other churches in town became storehouses or hospitals for Union soldiers.
When the war ended and the Union Army was through with the Knoxville Baptist Church, they turned it over to a community group who ran a school for freedmen under the direction of R.J. Creswell. The former slaves lived in the basement and had classes upstairs. Soon the agent of the American Home Mission Board demanded that the War Department return the southern church buildings to the people who owned them, and gradually this was done. The U.S. government reimbursed the Baptist Church $1,200 for damages done to their building.
However, this $1,200 had to be used to settle a lawsuit. Before the war, the Knoxville Baptist Church had borrowed $700. Now, years later, the creditor was dead, but his heirs were suing the church for twice that amount - principal plus back interest. The Baptist Church building was gutted and almost a shambles by the time the church membership regained possession. The pews had been given away, but many of them were recovered. John L. Moses traveled to Exeter, New Hampshire, and returned with $800. Once again the Baptists in Exeter came to the church's aid. This money was used to plaster, paint and build a new pulpit.
About this time Captain William Wallace Woodruff, who had been a captain in the Union Army, brought his bride to Knoxville and went to work supporting and reorganizing the Baptist Church. He was a tremendous influence for the next fifty years and a tireless worker for church.
The Home Mission Board sent Missionary Daniel William Phillips to re-establish the Knoxville Baptist Church in 1864. In his report to the Board, Rev. Phillips wrote:
"There has been no Baptist preaching here for nearly a year. There is at present a colored school kept in the Baptist House by a colored Methodist man. Before the rebellion there were in this city two Presbyterian, two Methodist and one Episcopal and one Baptist churches. One of the Methodist churches has wholly disappeared. The other was made a government store and was so loaded that the floor broke down. I gathered together all the Baptists that I could find (Oct. 1864) only some nine or ten male members in all I have thus far preached in the New School Presbyterian Church."
Deacon James C. Moses wrote about this difficult period: "The church was without a pastor or clerk from 1864 to 1866. The membership was scattered and but few could be found remaining in Knoxville who were connected with the church. Religious services were therefore dispensed with, so far as our denomination was concerned, and were not regularly resumed till the latter part of 1866."
In 1865 and 1866, when there were no services at the Baptist Church, young people attended Sunday School at St. John's Episcopal Church. But in a very few years the Sunday School of the Baptist Church began to regain its energy and strength. In 1867, during W.W. Woodruff's term as Sunday School Superintendent, membership increased to 250. Shortly thereafter membership was recorded as 150 white members and 50 black members. When Thomas L. Moses became Sunday School Superintendent, following Woodruff, enrollment was 700, with average attendance of 500. First Baptist was voted by the State Sunday School Convention as the "Banner Sunday School of the State". Rev. Phillips left after about six months and moved to Nashville, where he founded Roger Williams University.
Dr. Stephen H. Smith, a physician as well as a minister, had married Martha, daughter of Deacon John Smith, and lived in Jonesboro and Mossy Creek before and during the Civil War. In 1866 he agreed to become pastor of the Baptist Church until a regular pastor could be secured. He served for eighteen months.
Knoxville was growing. The first bridge across the Tennessee River was built by the Union forces occupying Knoxville during the Civil War. It was swept away by a great flood in 1867. Four years later a new bridge was opened at the south end of Gay Street. This one was destroyed by a tornado in 1875 and replaced in 1880.
In February, 1868, D.M. Breaker came from Union, South Carolina, to be pastor of the Knoxville Baptist Church. He and his family lived in the church basement. Rev. Breaker resigned after one year, but remained in Knoxville and stayed a member of the church.
In 1868 the church first began its ministry to the deaf. Church minutes record that in April of that year "Four young women from the Deaf and Dumb Asylum were received into the church: Misses Martha A. Gorman, Emma Rutledge, Mary A. Pope and May A. Mangum. A list of questions was written out for them and they were required to sign their names to the answers they had made." The Moses family had a strong interest in the deaf and encouraged the church's participation. Fifty-four years later Mrs. Laura Formwalt would begin giving the sermon in sign to the deaf in the congregation.
Rev. Frank C. Johnson, a former missionary in China, was called to the pastorate in 1869. He was asked to resign six months later because of "a lack of unity". It was this "lack of unity" that resulted in a group of members breaking off to form Second Baptist Church. They asked the previous pastor, Rev. D.M. Breaker, to lead them. Rev. Breaker "proceeded to collect a few members and organized a second church with a membership of twenty five." This was duly reported to the Baptist Association in October 1869. Now, for the first time, on December 27, 1869, the original church was called First Baptist Church to distinguish it from this second Baptist church.
A year later Second Baptist Church decided to discontinue operation and approached First Baptist about reuniting. A meeting was held at the Temperance Hall on the third Sunday of March, 1870 to negotiate a reunion. At the meeting it was resolved "that we will mutually forgive and forget any injuries, real or supposed," and First and Second Baptist became one again. It was also in 1870 that First Baptist, now with a membership of 166, started a special collection for the poor of the church.
That same year First Baptist rented the Caldwell Schoolhouse for six months to establish a mission in North Knoxville. When Col. Charles M. McGhee donated a lot, a chapel was built and called the McGhee Street Mission and later the McGhee Street Baptist Church. This modest start eventually grew to become the Broadway Baptist Church.
For a while First Baptist had certain pews set aside for the exclusive use of individual families. In April 1871 the church declared all seats free to all people without any exclusion privileges, and asked that "church members give special attention to visiting strangers."
The Baptist Church had been built at the back of the church lot, leaving about 25 feet (7.6 m) at the front unoccupied. Gay Street was becoming an active business center and space was in demand. The church decided to build and rent two two-story buildings in front of the church, leaving a passageway between them as entrance to the church. W.W. Woodruff paid for the construction and was to be reimbursed from the profits.
The two storage buildings were each quickly rented for $50 a month. It was a very profitable venture, and Woodruff was promptly repaid. The monies collected were not to be used for regular church expenses, but for benevolences. The storage buildings were in use about fourteen years. Then the city decided that this was not actually church business and the income should be taxable. When contested, this decision was reversed.
The 1870s saw the city of Knoxville make two major decisions. For the first time they considered "the propriety of establishing free schools." And the first efforts were made to organize a city hospital. Up until then there had been only a "pest house" for smallpox patients where they could be isolated to protect the community. The city rented four rooms on the second floor of a building at the corner of Broad and Depot streets which served as a hospital for 20 people.
Rev. Joseph L. Lloyd from Alabama was called to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church in 1870. He was a graduate of the University of Tennessee and had married a Knoxville girl, Mary Ann Henderson. He served for three years. It was a time of healing and growth for the church.
Church records show that on March 15, 1872, Lloyd E. Branson joined First Baptist Church. Mr. Branson is today a well-known portrait artist whose paintings have been displayed in the McClung Collection and at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In 1872 he was traveling around the countryside, staying for a time with prominent families and painting portraits of family members, as was the custom of the times.
The young years 1873 - 1920
First Baptist Church had 276 members when, in 1873, Jonathan Fleming Bingham Mays came from a church in Jackson, Tennessee, to be pastor. He contributed greatly to the financial organization of the young church. Rev. Mays started the envelope system of giving and record keeping. Heretofore the pastor had been paid by "voluntary subscription", but now a regular salary was established. It was the custom to "call" pastors just for one year. The "recall" at the end of each year was never assured.
On July 12, 1874, the first indoor baptismal service was held at First Baptist Church. This means that for thirty-one years members had been baptized in the river. Bingham Mays, the President of Carson–Newman College, S.W. Tindell, was ordained to preach the gospel in August 1874. This was the first ordination at the church. Rev. Tindell had been engaged in educational and ministerial work in East Tennessee for some time.
Church expenses were still a problem in 1877. With a membership of 319, it was recorded that "137 gave regularly, 34 gave very little and at long intervals, 148 gave nothing." The church took action adopting a resolution requiring every member to contribute weekly not less than five cents, and a committee was appointed to make assessments on each member. The deacons were to have supervision of each case, and decide what each should pay. This was a very unpopular action and was soon rescinded.
Rev. Mays was a remarkable, self-made man. He was a member of the City Board of Education and a trustee of the University of Tennessee. But in 1878 when his health failed, he moved to Florida. He was succeeded by George Boardman Eager, who led the church for two years. Dr. Eager was from a distinguished Baptist family in Mississippi and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. While in Knoxville, he received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Tennessee.
While pastor at First Baptist, Dr. Eager attended the East Tennessee Baptist General Association and pushed through a controversial measure which let that body sponsor institutes for black ministers at Knoxville and Mossy Creek. It was under Dr. Eager's ministry that the women organized the Earnest Workers Society, giving them a new and stronger participation in the church.
Records of 1879 list John Rountree as choir leader and Mary Rountree as organist. Singing at prayer meeting was led by E.A. Hacicworth.
On April 25, 1879, ten women met at the church, adopting a constitution with by-laws and stating their purpose as "...desiring to do all we can for the Cause of Christ, and realizing that our efficiency will be increased by organization, we do hereby organize ourselves into an association to be known as the Earnest Workers of the First Baptist Church." And they added graciously: "Any gentleman may become a member of this association on condition that he pay a monthly fee of ten cents; this, however, will not entitle him to the privilege of voting." Ladies of the Earnest Workers Society were the housekeepers of the church. One of their first projects was to raise $720 to buy new carpet for the church. The deacons were so proud of this new carpet, they immediately invested in fourteen new spittoons. The group raised money by "dues, fines, private contributions, concerts, lectures, bazaars, self denial, tea parties, strawberry festivals, silk bag collections, oyster suppers, a Chinese entertainment and in other ways."
Their projects included furnishing the pastor's study, buying chairs, cleaning the church, purchasing two baptismal suits, covering pew cushions and getting a fence built around the mission chapel. At one time they had sufficient funds to "consult our husbands about an investment. This we did and loaned the money at interest." So that in 1886 when the second church was built, the Earnest Workers Society purchased furniture for the ladies' parlor and the Sunday School rooms. For the parsonage, they bought a rug, kitchen stove, shades and curtains.
History has left us an amusing account of the Earnest Workers' most successful "Strawberry Festival", which was planned for June 1879 when the strawberries were ripe. "It was one of the most unanimous and popular proceedings the church ever had. It was patronized by all denominations and the public in general. The seats and furniture were removed from the church auditorium for the occasion. "Some features of this entertainment would not be considered entirely orthodox. The 'Post Office' feature was very entertaining, but altogether devoid of any spiritual or helpful influence, though not totally bad.
"A brother contributed a sewing machine and the manner in which this machine was disposed, to the amount of $100, would not be recognized by the courts of the land as altogether legitimate. Yet the festival went on uninterrupted for two days and nights and the church raised $465. A great success."
One year after the Earnest Workers Society organized, in 1880, the Woman's Missionary Society 29 was started. This was largely made up of the same women members, but the emphasis was on foreign and home missions. Meetings were held monthly on Tuesdays. The first year's gifts were $191, of which $17 was given to Foreign Missions and $2 to State Missions. The next year the budget was $202.
This Missionary Society reported at an early meeting that the "Baptist Board has 115 missionaries in the field. Twenty new ones having been sent out last year. In China there are 150,000 people to one missionary. The missionary box will be sent in October and you are asked to contribute money or clothes." Gifts were made to churches in Cuba and China. More than one box of clothes was sent to Rev. J.M. Corn and Rev. W.R. Edwards in Indian Territory, Norman, Oklahoma, as early as 1893.
While primary interest was in missions, many other good works were done by the Society: a communion table was bought for the mission church and gifts made to Carson-Newman College for scholarships and to furnish the parlor of the girls' dormitory. Boxes of clothing and supplies were regularly filled and sent to missionary workers from Dover, Tennessee, to China.
The two women's organizations ran side by side until 1920 when, at the request of the Woman's Missionary Society, the Earnest Workers Society turned over their funds and disbanded.
In 1880, the same year the Woman's Missionary Society organized, Charleton Hines Strickland came from Georgia to be pastor of the church. While in Knoxville Dr. Strickland earned three college degrees: from Carson-Newman College, the University of Tennessee and Southwestern Baptist University in Jackson, Tennessee. Dr. Strickland had joined the Confederate Army at age 16 and was the youngest captain in Longstreet's Dr. Charlton Hines Division which fought in the Battle of Fort Sanders in Knoxville. After the war he taught school in Georgia.
A month after his arrival he attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Lexington, Kentucky. First Baptist Church had not been active in the Convention up to this time. The State Baptist Convention was held at First Baptist in October 1880, the first time it met in East Tennessee. Attendance was large and the delegates were "entertained by the church in good style."
In 1881, the McGhee Street Baptist church in North Knoxville (which was started by First Baptist as a mission Sunday School in 1870) moved to Broad Street, when W.W. Woodruff donated two larger lots. He requested that the church now be called the Calvary Baptist Church, which it was until 1900. At this time the church was renamed Second Baptist Church. Then in 1906 the name changed once again to Broadway Baptist Church, as it is today.
In 1881 the church abolished its practice of calling the pastor every year. Dr. Strickland was extended an indefinite call at the salary of $1,800. The church at this time had 447 members: 266 women and 181 men. In 1882 the church recorded an income of $6,164.84. Dr. Strickland's salary was raised to $2,400 in an effort to hold him in Knoxville. But he preached a "Goodbye Sermon" in 1883, when he accepted the call of Nashville's First Baptist Church, and closed with the sentence: "It is better for me to go away when you want me to stay than to have to stay when you want me to go."
By 1882 the church realized it had outgrown its original building, and plans were made to build a new church on the same Gay Street property. First Presbyterian Church offered to share their sanctuary during the construction (as the Baptist church had done for them years earlier), but the church decided to rent the Opera House for Sunday services. Attendance fell sharply because many of the Baptists didn't feel they could worship in a theater.
Five years later the new church was finished, paid for and dedicated. Construction, which was completed by contractor J.A. Galyon in two years, was overseen by church member John McCoy; and the amazing financial success was largely due to Capt. W.W. Woodruff's pledge that "for every dollar you receive from all other sources, I will give another."
The new church was made of brick and marble and cost $30,000. The sanctuary seated 850. It was Gothic style with a tower and spire on the northwest corner that rose 176 feet (54 m) in the air, This steeple held a bell that rang with "thunderous tones that would rattle the windows in the downtown business district." There were smaller spires on the other corners of the building, and two Gay Street entrances.
Behind a small, brass, movable pulpit was a baptistery of white marble. Memorial windows on the north side of the sanctuary honored the Moses brothers who had founded the church. A church slogan, widely used in publications at this time, was: "In the Center of the City with the Savior." At the dedication on April 8, 1888, a quartet sang, and Albert Van Gilder was organist. The organ in the new church was placed in a chamber immediately over the pulpit and baptistery and rose to an elevation of twenty-four feet. Seventy-five of the 1,767 pipes were "displayed to view, and their arrangement was of the most pleasing character."
During the construction Eugene A. Taylor was pastor of First Baptist Church. He was young, handsome, athletic and highly educated. Rev. Taylor had traveled in Europe and Palestine. He had a strong talent for organization and greatly improved the management of the church. Church membership increased from 400 to 600 under Rev. Taylor. Sunday school added 100 new members.
W.W. Woodruff said of Rev. Taylor: "His mental qualities were of the highest order. His sermons were short, less than twenty-five minutes...enjoyed and appreciated." Records of 1886 list Frank Nelson as church organist. Mr. Nelson later served as organist for St. John's Episcopal Church for fifty years. The following year Frank Barker agreed to lead the singing on Sundays and "furnish all singers for eight dollars and a half." The church also voted to purchase a course of music lessons for J.W. Hicks, who was serving as cornetist.
On April 6, 1887, in the partly finished new church building, Rev. Taylor conducted funeral services for John L. Moses, church founder.
Many changes were going on in the growing city of Knoxville. In 1882 houses were numbered for the first time, and free mail delivery started the next year. Electric street lights appeared in 1885, and telephones were first available. By 1890 electric cars (street cars) were clanging down the streets of Knoxville. Between 1880 and 1910 the population of Knoxville grew from under ten thousand to almost twenty-seven thousand. The city had established itself as one of the major wholesale and distribution centers of the South.
In 1888 First Baptist began collecting money to establish a mission in the Ninth Ward District, but it was three years later that the Asylum Street Baptist Mission was actually opened. W.W. Woodruff again gave the new mission property and challenged them to a matching funds program to get their building constructed. Four years later, the new church, called Centennial Baptist Church, was independent. They called Rev. J.K. Pace as pastor and boasted a membership of ninety-two. In 1905, the church's name was changed to Deadrick Avenue Baptist Church.
Twenty-nine-year-old Carter Helm Jones came as pastor to First Baptist in 1889. He was a well-educated, eloquent and successful preacher. While pastor in Knoxville, he preached the annual sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention, being the youngest man up to that time so honored.
Years later, in 1939, Rev. Jones preached in Knoxville at the invitation of Dr. F.F. Brown. Still eloquent and thoughtful at age seventy, Rev. Jones is remembered for his statement, "Too many people are reading by electric light and thinking by candle light."
In 1893 Robert Roland Acree became pastor for a period of six years. He was instrumental in publishing a yearbook with a directory, the revised Church Covenant, Constitution and Declaration of Faith.
As early as 1874 the young men of the church had a "debating society" and ten years later were conducting a "young men's prayer meeting." But under Rev. Acree the first youth organizations were really established. There was a Baptist Young People's Union, a Girl's Aid Society and in 1898 Sunbeams for boys and girls under fifteen.
Montraville Walker Egerton, educated in law at the University of North Carolina, was ordained as a Baptist minister when he was thirty years old. Three years later, in 1899, he was called to Knoxville's First Baptist Church. He found a church in financial trouble. Insurance on the building had been reduced, the pastor's salary had been cut and the paid quartet eliminated. Within a year these problems were solved and regular funding restored.
A financial statement for the year 1903 reports: Expenses $4,594.43. Receipts $4,588.40. Balance on hand $.07!
In 1904 Rev. Egerton suffered a major stroke and died a year later at age 37. W.W. Woodruff called him "Our most beloved Pastor."
From January 1900 to May 1905, the church published a monthly newsletter called "First Baptist Visitor." It contained the church directory, officers, announcements, marriages, deaths and current information about church activities. A column on First Baptist's history by E.E. McCroskey, who was Church Clerk, has provided much of the information in this article.
months and then returned to Texas. A contemporary remarked, "Church and pastor parted without unkind feelings on either side. His heart was in Texas."
Joseph Judson Taylor, educated at the University of Virginia and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, came in 1907 to be pastor for seven years, which was the longest service of any pastor to this time. He resigned in 1914 to take the First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia.
In 1907 First Baptist was considering organizing a mission Sunday School at either Circle Park or East Mabry Street. Two years later the decision was made and a lot purchased at the corner of 12th and Cornell to establish what would be called Calvary Mission. In 1911 this mission became Calvary Baptist Church, and has grown with energy and purpose to become the strong congregation now located on Kingston Pike.
Leonard Gaston Broughton became pastor in 1915, during World War I. He came from a church in London, England, and felt strongly about the "righteousness of the Allied cause." Worship services at First Baptist began to take on the flavor of patriotic rallies. Dr. Broughton was a medical doctor practicing in North Carolina when he felt called to the ministry. He was a vigorous and articulate preacher. Under Rev. Broughton there was new interest in involving the entire church membership in Sunday School, and by 1916 Sunday School enrollment was 1,136.
The church bulletin of April 18, 1915, first mentions the Young Peoples' Union. There had been an earlier organization (1874) by this same name for young men of the church. But now the group was restructured and called the Baptist Young Peoples' Union and later, Training Union. Training Union was a vital part of the church's program through the years until 1972. Dr. Broughton taught an interdenominational Bible class on Friday nights at the church. This large class drew people from all across the city. An active men's group was organized at First Baptist and called the Laymen's Missionary Movement. Ben Morton, J.T. Henderson and J.H. Anderson were leaders in this group. Mr. Anderson personally supported six missionaries overseas. He gave more than a million dollars to the church, mostly for missions.
At this time E.A. Hackworth is mentioned again and again as being an outstanding Sunday School teacher at First Baptist. Mr. Hackworth, a cobbler by trade, started teaching in 1871 and for 45 years taught "boys of tender ages." Every young man in his classes joined the church, and one became a preacher. Church records say, "This humble shoemaker was a mighty warrior in the Band of Christian Soldiers."
A banquet honoring Dr. Broughton's first year as pastor of First Baptist turned into something of a Chamber of Commerce affair. With the mayor, two commissioners and the city recorder all Baptists, it was recognized that the "Baptist denomination predominates in Knoxville." At the banquet Dr. Broughton predicted great prosperity coming to the South and is quoted in the newspaper as saying, "I believe the time will come when to become rich and die rich will be a crime."
J. Oscar Miller is listed as Assistant to Pastor Broughton, General Secretary and Director of Music in 1916 and was obviously a busy man with the following responsibilities: "Visitation, Ways and Means Committee, Treasurer, missionary and benevolent offering, Sunday School music, directing the orchestra and choir and assisting Superintendent."
Two bits of history: In 1915 electric lights were installed at First Baptist. 1916 was the last year the church had an orchestra.
Knoxville was growing as a city. In 1917 the city annexed Lonsdale, Mountain View, Park City and Oakwood as well as large unincorporated areas such as South Knoxville and Sequoyah Hills. This increased the area of the city from four to twenty-six square miles. The census of 1920 showed that Knoxville's population had more than doubled in ten years.
First Baptist Church on Gay Street was in the heart of the city. Gay Street was like a shoestring business district with residences just one block away on either side. All of the hotels were on Gay Street. All of the streetcars terminated at the corner just fifty feet from the church. These street cars ran five miles (8 km) out into the country in every direction.
The Woman's Missionary Society in 1917 reported offerings of $7,500 during the year, excelling all other such societies in the state. The women were making plans to divide the Society into "circles" rather than have one general meeting. Nine years earlier, in 1908, the women had organized the Royal Ambassadors. In 1918 they began the Girls' Auxiliary.
By 1919 Professor C.S. Cornell was listed as Music Director. Rev. Frederick Stern was Assistant Pastor, and Mrs. Charles Eppes, organist. Church budget was recorded at over $26,000.
Five hundred new hymnals were ordered for $150, and the church bulletin scolded the congregation for carrying them home. Professor Cornell was a lively and popular song leader, but regretted that the books were being "borrowed" at a rate of ten every Sunday. The bulletin says, "If you want one, the secretary will be glad to sell you one for thirty-five cents, but don't take one home unless you buy it. It's terrible to be losing the books before they are even paid for!"
First Baptist now had over 1,115 members and was beginning to outgrow its building. Sunday School classes were being held in various buildings up and down Gay Street. They were even using two army tents pitched behind the church building.
Records show that: Four classes met in the Board of Commerce. Three classes met in the Draughon's Business College. One met on West Hill Avenue in a residence. One met in the Power and Light Building. One met in an office on Market Street. One met in the theater. One met in the baptismal room of the church. Three met in the balcony of the church.
Dr. Broughton left First Baptist in 1920 to become pastor of the Grove Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia.
Time Of Growth 1921-1952
Frederick Fernando Brown°, a North Carolina native, came from Sherman, Texas, to become pastor of First Baptist in May 1921. Dr. Brown preached for two years at the Gay Street church, for 6 months in the Bijou Theater and then twenty-two years at the present Main Avenue location, His twenty-five years as pastor is the longest tenure of any First Baptist pastor.
Dr. Brown found First Baptist free of debt, but with a depleted treasury. Reports show the 1920 budget was $16,300 and total membership 1,150. There was a twelve- member choir with Mrs. Walter Eppes as both organist and choir director. The annual picnic was held at Chilhowee Park that year on a Thursday afternoon. For some ten years before Dr. Brown came, even back during the pastorate of Rev. Egerton, there had been talk of enlarging the church or building on another site. The church had bought and sold several pieces of property looking for the best location. Within a few months after Dr. Brown arrived, a building committee was appointed. In September 1921 the lot on the corner of Walnut and Main was purchased. This was McClung family property that had been the location of an old jail and a military prison during the Civil War.
In the fall of 1921 with only tentative plans made for the new church and no idea of the actual final cost, members at a Wednesday evening prayer meeting began making substantial pledges. Sixty-nine names of those first volunteer subscribers were written on the fly leaf of a hymnal that was eventually placed in the cornerstone of the Main Avenue church building. A Fellowship Club was organized with Dr. Brown's leadership. Men of the church and other friends of First Baptist met for lunch or supper at the church on the third Thursday of each month.
With an enrollment of almost 1,400, Sunday School classes continued to be held outside the church, and classes to train new teachers were organized. Oldest members of the Sunday School faculty in point of service at this time were Mrs. Fred Roberts and Rev. J. Pike Powers. In 1922, in the Gay Street church, Mrs. Laura Formwalt began giving the sermon in sign for a young deaf couple. This grew into an organized Sunday School class for the deaf and a lasting ministry for First Baptist.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid in June 1923. The inscription reads: THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF TRUTH. First Timothy 3:13. A crowd of four hundred and fifty people, representing all congregations in the city, attended the ceremony. The program lasted two hours. Chairs were placed in front of an improvised pulpit, and many people sat around on slabs of marble, stood or perched on the wall foundations at the construction site.
An account from the "Knoxville Journal and Tribune" recalls: Dr. E.Y. Mullins, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, delivered the sermon. On the platform were Dr. F.F. Brown, pastor of the church, Dr. J.L. Dance, pastor of East Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. A.B. Bowers, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church, Captain W.W. Woodruff, John Cruze, John McCoy, Leese Moses and Mrs. Fred Roberts. (The last two were son and granddaughter of John L. Moses, church founder). The organist, Mrs. Walter Eppes, and the choir also participated.
It was at this ceremony that Dr. Brown called First Baptist "the mother of churches" in Knoxville, possibly referring to the number of mission churches First Baptist had started. When the workmen tried to seal the box containing the documents to be preserved in the cornerstone, there was a problem, and it was found that the work would take too much time. The stone was lowered and the cavity left unsealed.
The next morning workmen returned to the site, raised the stone and sealed it properly. Thirty-nine different items were placed in the cornerstone. Items ranged from the 1922 Treasurer's report to a picture of six-month old Robert McGuire Walters".
Previously that same month a small metal box from the cornerstone of the Gay Street church, which had been First Baptist's home for thirty-six years, was opened with a ceremony, as that church was soon to be tom down.
A history of the Cruze family's connection to First Baptist was among the first papers taken from the box and read. Other documents: a city directory of Knoxville in 1886, sealed recollections of W.W. Woodruff and a history of John C. Roundtree's Sunday School Class. Many other newspapers, photographs and histories were taken from the box that night. The content0 of this 1886 cornerstone, in the original box, were placed in the cornerstone of the Main Avenue church, Two years earlier at the Gay Street church J.C. McReynolds had organized a men's Bible class called the Human Interest Bible Class. This group started with seven men and grew to an average attendance of 380 each Sunday.
University of Tennessee Professor Harry Clark first taught the Human Interest Class. When Dr. Brown became pastor, he assumed responsibility for this men's class with continued success. Another large Sunday School class was the U.T. Bible Class especially for students at the University. This class was first taught by W.W. Woodruff, and later by Mrs. Daisy Meek and J.H. Anderson.
As the Main Avenue church structure took shape, the Knoxville News-Sentinel proclaimed: "Knoxville is soon to have one of the most beautiful churches in the entire country. Built from plans secured through competition from designs of leading architects, the magnificent structure rapidly taking shape on West Main Avenue has already been acclaimed by authorities to be a splendid example of ecclesiastical architecture ....The monumental portico composed of six massive stone columns with carved stone capitals provides an approach of great dignity and charm. An elaborate hand carved frieze of garlands and cherubs will serve to add chaste beauty to the otherwise severe exterior. A graceful tower rising majestically above the portico.. ..will serve as an appropriate pinnacle for such a noble structure."
The church cost approximately $600,000 and required 150 workmen nearly a year to build. It provided seats for 1,200 (with room for another 200 chairs) in the sanctuary and space for 2,685 in Sunday School. It was designed by Dougherty and Gardner of Nashville. Worsham Brothers of Knoxville was the contractor. The construction was supervised by J.P. Gaut, M.W. Egerton, J.H. Brakebill and F F. Brown.
Four local banks made loans secured by church members' pledges. J.H. Anderson negotiated a quarter-ofa-million dollar loan from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York, which records show was the first large loan this insurance company had ever made to a Protestant church. The cross above the portico was unusual for a Baptist church. Stained glass windows were not a typical Baptist tradition either, but the compromise was to make the stained glass in earth tones that "harmonizes most effectively with the warmth of the subtle coloration throughout the sanctuary."
Mrs. Fred Brown chose the three Bible verses that are inscribed along the sides of the sanctuary: "I am the Resurrection and the Life", "Holy Holy Holy Is the Lord of Hosts" and "Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock."
The large chandelier hanging from the center of the dome in the octagonal auditorium was the gift of Mrs. Cecil H. Baker in appreciation of her husband. There were many other memorials46. The marble panel over the central door in the front vestibule was the gift of the congregation to honor John L. and James C. Moses. Equipment for several Sunday School classes was given by Joe Mabry and Mrs. J.B. Jones.
The church organ was given by Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Anderson in memory of their daughter, Mary Anderson McClellan. The organ was considered at that A. Roberts (great-granddaughter) and William Moses Roberts (great-grandson). There were no descendants of James Moses on the church roll.
Formal opening of the new church was September 7, 1924. Church services had been held in the Bijou Theater while the building was under construction. The official opening was a week-long celebration with preaching every night, except Wednesday when Frank Nelson played an organ recital. The Woman's Missionary Society held an all-day prayer service on Friday. Fifteen years later on April 2, 1939, this church was fully paid for and dedicated debt free.
A census of Knoxville's churches taken on January 31, 1925, indicated how large and diversified the city was becoming. An 1868 survey had found thirteen congregations in the city: four Presbyterian (three white, one black), three Methodist (two white, one black), two Baptist (one white, one black), two Episcopalian, one Roman Catholic and one Jewish. At that time the city's population was just over 8,000. Now, fifty-seven years later, the city population was about 90,000, and there were 134 churches. Knoxville's largest church in 1925 was First Baptist with a membership of 1,812. In 1924 First Baptist Church had its own radio station, WFBC, which was operated by University of Tennessee student St. John Reynolds. The broadcast, heard in 22 states for the-next seven years, was underwritten by Mrs. J.B. Jones as a memorial to her mother, Mrs. J.S. Hall. This is all the more remarkable when you realize the very first radio broadcasting in the United States began just four years before station WFBC was started. WDKA (Pittsburg) and `0C/WJ (Detroit) were the first in 1920. In 1931 government regulations made it necessary for WFBC to either broadcast full time or give up the station. All the equipment and the license were sold to WNOX in return for their agreement to broadcast the church's Sunday School, morning and evening services for two years without charge. On Tuesday morning, August 23, 1927, letters one-foot high in red paint were discovered defacing First Baptist Church. 1 said: "God is a Fake" and "Sacco and Vanzetti are Martyrs." Sacco and Vanzetti had been executed in Boston early that Tuesday morning after being convicted as anarchists. Police stayed on guard at the church and "searched as a precaution against the possibility of hidden bombs. Either no clues were left or all had been obliterated by the curious crowd." The News-Sentinel offered a $100 reward for the arrest and conviction of the "person or persons who defaced the First Baptist Church."
By 1928 the University of Tennessee had become an important part of Knoxville's economy as well as a social and cultural institution. Enrollment was over 5,000 when regular session, summer sessions for teachers and extension work were counted.
But by 1929 Knoxville's economy had slowed. Knoxville had experienced strong growth for the sixty-five years following the Civil War, but a prosperity built on railroads and wholesale merchandising began to fade.
Times were hard in 1930, and the WMU at First Baptist responded by maintaining a clothes closet for the needy. Mission gifts collected by the WMU that year were $13,777.66. Knoxville by 1930 had the look of an industrial center with 350 manufacturing plants employing 18,000 people. Railroad and machine shops, textile, marble and lumber mills poured black smoke from coal-burning furnaces and filled the city air with oily black soot. Knoxville took on the grimy look which for many years was one of its most remarkable physical characteristics. One product of the depression in Knoxville was the rise of federal government activities in the area, mainly the Tennessee Valley Authority and Oak Ridge. Knoxville had little to do with establishing TVA or controlling its development. Knoxville had even less to do with the mysterious new defense plant a few miles away in Oak Ridge. It seems hard to believe now, but it wasn't until 1942, years after the beginning of Oak Ridge, that Knoxville learned about the manufacture of enriched uranium. By 1945 Oak Ridge was two-thirds the size of Knoxville with a population of 75,000.
In July 1931 First Baptist gave Dr. Brown a year's leave of absence to travel as Executive Secretary of the Promotion Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. The following year he was elected president of the Convention. Illness, however, prevented him from presiding in 1933, so it is unique that he was a president who never presided. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park opened in 1934 much to the delight of numerous civic groups who had been working for years to purchase this wilderness from the lumber companies and other private owners and return it to the public as a park. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at the dedication on September 2, 1940, and Dr. Fred Brown was beside him on the platform to give the invocation. � Minutes for a 1932 Woman's Missionary Union meeting record that the group was once again underwriting expenses for a black delegate to attend the Bible Conference at Knoxville College. Two changes in the organization: the WMU was for the first time divided into "circles" and for the first time the president received an expense account. Five dollars a month was allotted Mrs. Wayne Longmire, the 1932 president.
After 15 years at First Baptist at age 53, Dr. Brown received a call to the First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Knoxville congregation rallied to hold him in Knoxville. One newspaper carried an editorial, "Keep Doctor Brown." After two weeks of suspense, Dr. Brown announced at a morning worship service that he would stay in Knoxville. Before he had even finished his statement, the choir and the congregation burst into song, 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow...." Church records show the church had a resident membership in 1938 of 2,300. Sunday School, with A.C. Bruner as Superintendent, had an average attendance of 1,000 each Sunday. April 2, 1939, fifteen years after the first service in the Main Avenue First Baptist Church, Dedication Services° were held. A large crowd gathered at 10:45 AM to watch as J.P. Gaut, Building Committee Chairman, burned the note. The last payment of $1,500 had been made on a debt which once totaled $600,000. Rev. Carter Helm Jones, who had been First Baptist's pastor from 1889 to 1893, came from the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, Virginia, to speak along with Dr. Brown at the Dedication Service.
During the summer of 1941 the congregation vacated the sanctuary for six weeks while it underwent painting and renovation. The return to the newly decorated sanctuary was celebrated as a service honoring the church's older members. A quartet, whose combined ages totaled 333 years, was featured. They were: W.E. Parry (76), M.E. Parmelee (89), J.V. Bonnell (80) and Philip Francis (88). Ninety-four-year-old Mrs. Comelia McCullen was the church's oldest member at this time, both from the standpoint of age and years of membership.� � In 1943 First Baptist celebrated its 100th anniversary. Sunday School enrollment was approximately 1,800. A fully graded Training Union 48 was active as well as a vigorous Woman's Missionary Union. Under Dr. Brown's leadership the Men's Fellowship Club was meeting regularly. Church membership was recorded at 2,600 with 200 men and women in the armed forces. A drive was underway by 1944 to build East Tennessee Baptist Hospital, and First Baptist Church led the way. Henry Blanc, Mrs. R.L. Harris and M. Mahan Suter chaired the primary committees. No federal money was sought or desired. The hospital was built by Baptists and their friends in East Tennessee at a cost of over two and a half million dollars. It was this same year that Ed Hamilton extended the music program of the church to include junior choirs which met Sunday afternoons, as well as the adult choir.
During the long years of World War II, over 200 members of First Baptist Church served in the armed forces. Dr. Brown led the church in a continuing effort to keep in touch with each one with both personal letters and printed material. Servicemen's names and addresses were regularly printed in the bulletin along with news of their activities. First Baptist had three chaplains in the armed forces: Rev. Oren Bishop, Lt. Richard Huff and Lt. Leonard Richardson.
In 1945 the Southern Baptist Convention called off its annual meeting at the request of the government agency in charge of transportation. So the Knox County Association of Baptists held a meeting in Knoxville in May. State and area leaders attended. First Baptist Church served as host. It was in November of this year that the News-Sentinel ran a front page story stating that an ordinance to allow Sunday movies had been passed by the City Council and was scheduled for a second reading at the next meeting. Seven prominent pastors in the city, including Dr. F.F. Brown, protested to City Council that this issue had already been turned down by the citizens of Knoxville in a previous vote and suggested that another referendum be held before Sunday movies were made legal.
�Never physically strong during his long pastorate, Dr. Brown retired on his 25th anniversary as First Baptist pastor. In March 1946 a 28 member Pulpit Committee was named. For the first time, eighteen members of this committee were women.
In October of that year, the church called Rev Henry J. Stokes°. During his six years at First Baptist, Rev. Stokes launched programs for mission work with the underprivileged who lived along the riverfront. Ross Reeder's Sunday School class spearheaded this inner-city mission work. Sheriff Hazen Kreis and Dave Davies worked with Ross Reeder in early efforts to attract the riverfront children to a Sunday School class held in what is now the Share and Care Center.
At one time Sheriff Kreis would drive his car through the South Knoxville waterfront neighborhoods on Sunday morning picking up children for Sunday School, and then deliver them back home when Sunday School was over.
Miss Jessie Parmelee, newly retired from a career as a home missionary in southern Louisiana, came to the church as a mission worker in 1947. In the beginning she worked largely with the teenage girls and parents of these riverfront children.
For the first time First Baptist scheduled nursery care for the members' youngest children during Sunday School and worship services, morning and evening, Starting with the youngest infants, there were to be four age groups.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of Laura Formwalt's work with the deaf at First Baptist was recognized. More than one hundred members were at this time in the deaf class, working in three groups: Sunday School, Training Union and Missionary Society.
Records show that the Sunday morning service was broadcast over WNOX each Sunday for a month in 1947. There were 200 children in Vacation Bible School and 104 at the Woman's Missionary Union meeting. Sunday School had a banner day with 1,267 present. �Fifty Baptist churches participated in an all-day study meeting for missionaries at First Baptist. Forty-five Southern Baptist missionaries came from all over the world for a day of intensive training.
In 1949 the Deacon Board first considered the adoption of a rotation plan for deacon service. Current deacons appointed for life would continue as called, but new deacons would be appointed on a rotation schedule. A similar plan was adopted eight years later.
The refusal of the deacons to adopt the rotation plan, along with a dwindling membership brought about by a swing to suburban churches, caused a sharp conflict to develop between the church deacons and the pastor. Dr. Stokes resigned in anger at the Sunday morning service in November 1949. The calm leadership of Assistant Pastor John G. Clark and the efforts of several church members resulted in a public reconciliation, and the resignation was withdrawn. Under Rev. Stokes' direction, the church library had a new and official status. This was celebrated with a formal opening in a much improved location next to the office. One hundred fifty two books were catalogued.
The committee for this newly organized library was: Miss Belle Lazenby, Mrs. Fred V. Brown, Mrs. A.L. Kennedy, Dr. J.A. Thackston and Mrs. Harry Williams. Miss Ruth Ringo and Miss Estelle Brewer, both trained librarians, assisted with cataloging.
As early as 1845 the church had a library of books furnished mostly by the American Baptist Sunday School Union. In 1871 church records show that one hundred dollars of the money raised at the Strawberry Festival was used to purchase a Sunday School library.
�In 1919 Miss Laura Tittsworth was working to build the Sunday School library and asking for books to be donated. But now the church library had a budget, a permanent home and Miss Lazenby serving as librarian. When the library celebrated its second anniversary in 1953 there were almost one thousand books on the shelves. Four years later the total was over eighteen hundred books.
Statistics of interest: Church budget in 1951 was $137,780. Church choirs were active with 54 members in the adult choir, 24 in the youth choir and 36 in the junior choir. Over 50 young men from the First Baptist congregation served in the armed forces during the Korean War.
In 1952 Carlotta McCoy Eppes resigned as organist, with the church's deep appreciation and tribute. Mrs. Eppes had been organist for First Baptist for 42 years, starting in 1910 in the Gay Street church. Mary Eleanor Jones (Pickle) became organist in May.
Rev. Stokes resigned in 1952 to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia. An eighty-six member pulpit committee was appointed to search for a new pastor.
Years Of Progress 1953-1977
In January 1953, thirty-three-year-old Charles Arthur Trentham came from his position as Professor of Theology at Southwestern Seminary to become the twenty-fifth pastor of First Baptist Church.
Dr. Trentham grew up in Knoxville and graduated from Carson-Newman College. He earned both the Th.M. and Th.D from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
While at First Baptist, Dr. Trentham was Dean of the School of Religion at the University of Tennessee (for thirteen years) and a trustee at Carson-Newman, as well as a member of the Executive Committee and Chairman of the Christian Life Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.
The church quickly took on new energy. Two years later property behind the church was purchased for $40,000, and plans got under way to build an education building. In 1958 a $576,000 building and remodeling program was endorsed by the First Baptist congregation. Some $470,000 of this was to construct the education building. The building was to have almost 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) with space for eighteen departments. The rest of the money was allotted to connect the old and new buildings with an enclosed overpass ($20,000) and to remodel and air-condition the existing building. Johnson and Galyon were contractors with church member W.K. Johnson overseeing the construction. Dr. Trentham recalled that the first gift for the construction of the connecting overpass was given by David Blumberg, Jewish civic leader, who humorously suggested the connector be called "The Baptist Passover."
An open house on March 6, 1960, celebrated the completion of the new building. The largest area was a multipurpose room with a stage. This room could seat 600-700 as a dining area or be used as a basketball court. (For years this dining room was the rallying place for the United Fund and many other civic activities.) A fully equipped kitchen, an elevator and a well equipped baby-bed nursery were other features of the new building. At last First Baptist had adequate Sunday School rooms. This was a far cry from the two army tents that were once pitched behind the Gay Street church for Sunday School classes.
Five years later the remodeling continued with the completion of a handsome chapel beneath the sanctuary which was dedicated in 1965 as the Fred Brown Chapel. During Dr. Trentham's first year as pastor in Knoxville the state Woman's Missionary Meeting was held at First Baptist as well as the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Mary Elizabeth Tyler joined the staff as Dr. Trentham's secretary and elementary worker. Five years later she was relieved of all other duties to serve full-time as Secretary to the Pastor, assisting him also with his many publications and varied ministries. Miss Tyler left First Baptist in 1975, after twenty-three years of service, and became the Administrative Assistant to Dr. Foy Valentine in Nashville.
Sunday School attendance was high: 1,122 recorded one Sunday, 1,243 on another Sunday and an Easter Sunday record of 1,346. In 1954 the church voted to send Dr. Trentham and Rev. Idus V. Owensby, Minister of Education52, to the Baptist World Alliance in London, England. Total church membership was recorded at 3,199 with 2,504 considered resident members and fifteen in the armed forces. Church budget was $197,340 for 1955. In August, First Baptist received a certificate stating that 58% of our collected offering had gone to World Missions through the Cooperative Program. Two years later, in 1957, the Executive Secretary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention announced that First Baptist Church in Knoxville led the entire state in gifts through the Cooperative Program - a total of $93,573.86. Then in 1958 the church broke all records with a gift of over one hundred thousand dollars to the Cooperative Mission Program.
The September 15, 1955, church bulletin urged members to go to the polls and vote in the liquor referendum, Six years later the city approved the sale of liquor and another almost as controversial issue, the fluoridation of the city's water.
The year 1956 marked the beginning of an all-volunteer choir at First Baptist. Up to this time there had been a paid quartet of soloists. 1956 also saw the beginning of graded Sunday School classes.
That same year Dr. George Schweitzer, outstanding University of Tennessee Professor and well-known church member, spoke to the Southern Baptist Convention in Kansas City. As early as 1956 several Baptist ministers in town were suggesting that a new church be established in West Hills. But it was left to First Baptist Church to finance and organize in 1959 the Sunday School that led quickly to the establishment of West Hills Baptist Church".
J.O. Archer was asked to be Superintendent of this new West Hills Mission and held the first service on October 4, 1959, at the West Hills Elementary School. Rev. James A. Ivey, then Associate Pastor at First Baptist, preached the first sermon. The following year Rev. Andrew Jackson Prince was called as pastor.
West Hills Baptis‘Church celebrated its second anniversary in a handsome new building on Winston Road, where it is today. Eight acres of land for the new church were given by Mr. and Mrs. H.A. Schubert, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Schubert, and Mr. and Mrs. Breck Ellison.
In October 1957 the church approved the rotation of deacons plan that had first been discussed in 1949. Current life-deacons were to continue to serve "under their call," but deacons elected in the future would serve a seven-year term. This plan was to apply to all officers, teachers, directors and leaders in the church and would allow a greater number of people to be active in leadership positions.
After a seven-year active term deacons were expected to remain off the board for one year before they were eligible for re-election. This plan was later modified to a five-year active term for deacons with two years off before reelection.
Mrs. A.C. Bruner was recognized for her skillful arrangement of sanctuary flowers over the past fifteen years, and with deep appreciation the church accepted her request to be relieved of the responsibility.
A downtown mission class was organized in the Knox County Baptist Association Building on Market Street in April 1959. Young mission pastors served this group which grew from 23 to 80. The Market Street Mission was dissolved when TVA towers were built at the end of Market Street. Dr. Trentham was beginning his sixth year when television first became a part of the program. VI/ATE televised the services on the second Sunday of each month for several years. It was eighteen years later (1976) that First Baptist began televising its own service each Sunday.
The state Sunday School Convention was held at First Baptist in March 1959 and the Baptist Student Union Convention in April. A year later the annual meeting of the Woman's Missionary Union of Tennessee was also at the church.
This same year saw the closing of the Red Cross Sewing Room. For eighteen years ladies of the church had met twice each month to sew for the Red Cross. As Dr. Trentham began his ninth year, First Baptist recounted its progress: gifts to the Cooperative program had grown to more than one hundred thousand dollars a year. The largest church budget (1961) had been over subscribed, and pledges to missions surpassed that of any previous year. The construction of the education building, which more than doubled the educational space of the church, was completed. Sunday School and Training Union were setting new attendance records. The graded choir program now had an enrollment of 274. � In 1962 with WNOX, and in 1968 with WATE, the First Baptist worship service was broadcast over radio for a period of months.
It was in 1962 that Knoxville held its first Dogwood Arts Festival. What started as primarily a tour of gardens and neighborhood trails (Sequoyah Hills trail in1955 was the first) has developed into a two-week celebration of spring. The Festival today still has lovely marked trails and open gardens, but also hundreds of family-oriented activities which are 85% free to the public. Gerald Ballard became church organist in 1954, and now after almost ten years, the church accepted his resignation with regret. Mrs. Charles C. Hutson became organist in 1963. Newspaper accounts in 1964 state that the number of Baptist churches in America had increased to 91,500 with a membership of more than 22,300,000. Baptists at this time constituted the second largest religious group in America, exceeded only by Roman Catholics.
The following year local papers reported that there were 400 churches in Knoxville, and the largest was First Baptist with 3,470 members. �1964 records show that sixty-five babies, ages birth through three years, were being cared for in the church's nursery during Sunday School and fifteen during Training Union. The First Baptist Church bulletin congratulated "our own" Mary Costa on her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mary Costa grew up in First Baptist Church and, as an adult, whenever she was in Knoxville, sat with the First Baptist choir and sang a solo at the morning service.
During the 1960s and for a dozen years or more, a remarkably vibrant College Department was part of the First Baptist Sunday School. Its success was evident in that some 200 students attended. At the start of each school term the line of shoulder-to-shoulder students joining the church would reach from one side of the sanctuary across to the other.
Jane Powell, Gibbs Prevost and Clyde Carpenter, with Dr. Trentham's encouragement, organized the department on a seminar plan. Choosing an area of study, Dr. George Schweitzer would talk for 20 minutes. Then the students would break into discussion groups. The groups were led by church couples who had undergone a full year of training and preparation. The group leaders met monthly for dinner in a home and at summertime retreats where they studied material organized by Dr. Wade Boswell.
In 1967 Dave Lipscomb and Dixie Lipscomb (Petrey) were co-directors of the College Department, and while Dr Schweitzer continued to be the major speaker, others occasionally talked on a variety of subjects. Pete Beard, Luther Turner, Dave Lipscomb, Nancy Siler, George Doebler and Dr. Vivian Gibbs spoke on subjects which ranged from "History of the Bible" to "Marriage and the Family."
The students were encouraged to think for themselves, to reason with one another and to ask all manner of questions. The Department became a model from which many others were patterned.
In 1977 the church added a Context Class led by Don and Betty Mirts to give college students the option of more structured study.
In 1967 the church purchased properties near the church for parking space, investing $210,000 in land on Walnut, Main, Hill and Market
That same year the church recognized the first-year anniversary of the Deaf Department's program for younger children from the Tennessee School for the Deaf, The Deaf Department now had an enrollment of 336 and was organized into five groups: Adults, Young People, Intermediates, Juniors and Primaries. Dr. J. Wayne Waller was Coordinator of the program. A church bulletin was dedicated to Mrs. Willie D. Smith who retired after sixteen years as church hostess.
On September 21, 1969, First Baptist recognized the 125th Anniversary of the church with a homecoming celebration and reception in Fellowship Hall. A pamphlet was published picturing the three church buildings with a brief history.
�Church membership in that anniversary year was 3,540 with 2,508 listed as resident members. Additions to the membership that year numbered 217. 1970 saw the beginning of Knoxville Inner City Churches United for People (KICCUP) in which First Baptist became actively involved with nine other downtown churches. The purpose was to coordinate the mission work of all the downtown churches.
The first organizational meetings were held in Dr. Trentham's study. Attending were: Ralph Frost (representing religious activities at If!), Dixie Petrey (who named the new organization), John McKinnon (First Presbyterian Church), David Matthews (St. John's Episcopal Church), E.K. Reagan (First Cumberland Presbyterian), Bob Landry (First Christian Church), Henry Horton (First Methodist Church), Joseph Copeland (Second Presbyterian Church) along with Dr. Trentham and Mary Elizabeth Tyler, as secretary. Church Street United Methodist Church and St. John's Lutheran Church were also involved.
The plan was for each church to take one area of interest and draw workers from all churches. First Baptist assumed the Deaf Ministry. Church Street United Methodist sponsored a day-care nursery school for working mothers. St. John's organized around "Meals on Wheels" and the others had equally important areas. KICCUP, in recent years, has been under the direction of Rev. Julian Spitzer, former pastor of Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church. The organization is now also active in the Interfaith Health Clinic, Volunteer Ministry Center, the city's Good Friday and Sunrise Easter Services as well as the Thanksgiving Service, which is an outgrowth of Ralph Frost's Student Christian Association Thanksgiving services first held on campus at the University of Tennessee in the 1920s.
Nick Foster, currently First Baptist Youth Minister, is an active member of the Executive Council of KICCUP.
The year 1973 saw a week-long celebration for the Golden Anniversary of the church's Ministry to the Deaf. Rev. Carter Bearden from the Home Mission Board spoke in the Chapel for two Sunday services. Faye Ianham, niece of Laura Formwalt, spoke at a banquet, and James D. Fain, of Houston, led Bible �study. The deaf program at First Baptist was started by Mrs. Laura Formwalt and was under her caring leadership for forty-four years. Since 1967 Rev. William E. Davis had been First Baptist Minister to the Deaf.
During this period Mrs. Helen Trentham (Duncan) gave many years of inspiring assistance for the deaf in the community. She was often signing the sermons, assisting the deaf in finding employment, accompanying them to hospitals, to doctor's and lawyer's offices and to court when necessary. Her Christian concern endeared her to all the silent people of Knoxville and helped to make the Deaf Department of First Baptist Church a model for others. The concept of Knoxville's expressway system was developing about this time, and with the completion of the Downtown Loop in 1973 traffic patterns around the church changed dramatically.
An exceptional new organ was installed in 1973 and dedicated with a month of recitals and special programs. The organ was built by Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio, and constructed with 3,153 pipes, the largest being 32 feet (9.8 m) long and the smallest 3/8 of one inch.
In November 1973, the church accepted Dr. Trentham's resignation and he, after almost 21 years at First Baptist, left to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. President Jimmy Carter was one of the Sunday School teachers in Dr. Trentham's Washington congregation.
A five-member Pulpit Supply Committee, with Carl F. Maples as chairman, worked with an eighty-one-member Pulpit Replacement Committee in the search for a new pastor. For a year First Baptist Church functioned without a pastor, but with an able staff: Dave Ward, Associate Minister; Carl Perry, Music Minister; Mary Hutson, Education Coordinator; 0.E. Turner, Minister of Visitation; Mrs. Marion Pickle, Jr., organist. In this interim year the congregation gave 122% of the annual budget. At the same time another eight-member committee chaired by Andrew Edmondson was searching for a Minister to the Deaf since Rev. Davis had resigned to become Superintendent of,the Tennessee School for the Deaf. For a year Jerry Heflin, from the faculty at Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy, served as Interim Minister to the Deaf. Then in 1975, Rev. Jerry M. Seale came from Texas to join the staff as Associate Minister for the Deaf.
�An exhibit of paintings by Elaine Herrin, artist from South America, prompted the talented members of First Baptist Church to have a Springtime Christian Art Festival. Over sixteen members, both men and women, exhibited their art in Fellowship Hall.
In 1974, Mrs. Helen Mosely presented a beautiful three-octave set of Schulmerick handbells to the church in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walter B. Hudson. An additional octave of handbells was added ten years later to honor the memory of Hannah Frances Stone, for many years a soloist in the choir and song director for one of the Adult Sunday School Departments. The bulletin congratulated Mrs. H.D. Tittsworth on her "first hundred years." Mrs. Tittsworth had been a member of First Baptist Church for seventy of those years. Then in February 1975, the church called as pastor Dr, Jesse C. Fletcher, who was at that time the Director of Mission Support Division for the Foreign Mission Board. Dr. Fletcher instigated a schedule for two Sunday morning services and expressed new interest in a television ministry.
Live television broadcast of the eleven o'clock service was started at a cost of $785 each Sunday. A survey eight months later showed the church service was being watched by one-third of the viewing audience in this area, The church also began having a children's sermon at the eleven o'clock service as well as the early service.
The 1976 figures show a new enthusiasm at First Baptist. A $565,150 budget was adopted. The Lottie Moon Offering reached a new high of $26,000. Sunday School attendance averaged 821. The morning worship service attendance was 1,268, and evening worship was 340.
�Mrs. Dixie Lipscomb (Petrey) approached the church with the suggestion that they give "prayerful consideration of qualified women" in the selection of new Deacons. The church voted to buy property on the southeast corner of Hill and Locust meaning First Baptist now owned the entire block and could develop long-range plans for parking improvement. Funds became available, because property had been sold to the city for construction of the new City-County Building.
With Shirley Henson as Director, the church for the first time organized a Sunday School Department for Singles. The first meeting welcomed fifty men and women. Within six years this department had grown and divided into three regular classes.
The JOY Group was organized by Carl Perry in 1975 for older members of First Baptist Church. In 1980, Dave Ward, as Minister to Senior Adults, became the leader. One fourth of the members of First Baptist fall in this over sixty-five category.
Today the JOY Group meets monthly. Average attendance is 45. It is both a social gathering and a study group. As typical activities they study books, missionaries, nutrition and travel to the Cumberland Playhouse, Ijams Nature Park and even shopping malls in Atlanta.
In September 1977, First Baptist began a new downtown mission ministry with the opening of the Share and Care Center. One night each week church members staffed the center in the basement of the church to distribute clothes and food to the needy. For the most part, clothes were donated by church members.
Every Monday morning women of the church met to sort, clean, size and prepare the donated clothes for the Thursday distribution. The Share and Care Center continues today to be a much-needed mission project and is staffed by the Adult Sunday School classes.
Mrs. Leonard Butler served as the original Director for the Share and Care Center. Directors since that time have been: Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Hudson, Mr. �and Mrs. Richter Wigall, Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Shirley and Mr. and Mrs. Wade Boswell.
1977 saw many changes. Rev. O.E. Turner resigned. Mrs. H.D. Tittsworth, the oldest member of First Baptist, died at age 103. Rev. Robert Money joined the staff as Minister of Counseling. For the first year or two First Baptist members were cautious about the Counseling Ministry, Dr. Fletcher had offered on the television broadcast, "Call if you need help." And there were many calls. At first participants in the counseling program were 30% church members and 70% from the community. Fifteen years later the ratio is 75% church members and 25% from the community.
The counseling is largely marital counseling, but also includes individual and family therapy. An average of forty persons each week now call on Rev. Money for help. In October 1977 Dr. Fletcher resigned to become President of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
The Church Today 1978-1993
Dr. A. Douglas Watterson, 55, accepted a unanimous call to become pastor of First Baptist Church in April 1978. He came from the Cliff Temple Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. That same year he was chosen First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention at the meeting in Atlanta, Church membership was 3,904 with 2,855 listed as resident members. September 23, 1978, Miss Katie Roberts died. For the first time the church was without a direct descendant of the Moses brothers who had founded First Baptist. Miss Roberts was the great-granddaughter of John L. Moses.
The following year Sara Bessie Rogers retired from her position as Financial Secretary after 30 years with First Baptist Church.
Again in 1980 when the deacon selection process was under discussion, Mrs. A. D. Petrey and Mrs. Tom Siler asked that the congregation be encouraged to nominate women as Deacons. It was four years later, in 1984, that the first woman deacon, Loraine Stewart, was elected to First Baptist's Deacon Board. Since that time there have been thirteen other women elected to serve as deacons.
Sunday School enrollment reached an all-time high of 1,900 in 1980. One year later the church announced its first million dollar budget, but had second thoughts even before January was over and revised it to a total of $894,815, which was some $50,000 less than the previous year.
A Debt Free Campaign raised almost $130,000 for church improvements. Plans included: (1) retiring the debt, (2) replacing the roof on the multipurpose building, (3) repairing the sanctuary ceiling and (4) renovating the nursery area.
�The sanctuary ceiling (which weighed six tons) was removed and replaced with a combination of plaster and vermiculite weighing three-and-a-half tons less.
Needlepoint tapestries were hung in the church vestibule. Artist Nancy McCauley of Oak Ridge designed the tapestries in a stained glass motif with vibrant colors. Eight women of the church (Verlie Mae Ladd, Nancy Siler, Mary Nell Johnson, Jenny Parris, Lida Hoskins, Mary Hall Frost, Grace Gentry and Miranda Brown) worked hundreds of hours to complete the tapestries. In 1981 First Baptist recognized the 104th birthday of Mrs. Susan B. Cooper, mother of Sam Cooper.
The Knoxville World's Fair opened in 1982, and at the deacons' suggestion the church's multipurpose room was made available to youth and choir groups from other Southern Baptist Churches.
In 1982 Mildred and Jerry Goode, as members of the Worship Committee, took over the responsibility of the sanctuary flowers. In the past Mrs. A.C. Miner and Trula Dunlap had each for a time been in charge of the Sunday morning flowers.
The Goodes keep a list (and a waiting list) of members who want to provide flowers for Sunday's service Most often the flowers are given in memory of a family member. Many people choose to give flowers each year on the same date.
After the service the members may take their flowers (often to the cemetery) or leave them for use in the church. Mr. Lewis Homer takes a �photograph of the flowers in the sanctuary each Sunday in order that the member who gave them may have a permanent record. Easter, Christmas and Palm Sunday sanctuary flowers are handled by Eugene Hattaway. The dramatic Christmas display of poinsettias was for many years the gift of Mrs. Halmond Clark. Recently the impressive choir-loft poinsettia tree has become an annual tradition, and the entire congregation contributes to the fund that purchases these plants. The Greening of the Sanctuary has become a special holiday event since it first was started in 1981. At an evening service the children's choirs are featured and garlands hung on the balconies and throughout the sanctuary,
First Baptist Church joined the county-wide FISH program in 1983. This is a five day a week program where people in need call, and food is delivered to them. A central pantry is maintained The first Monday of each month is First Baptist's day to be "on call." Ladies work two-hour shifts and take calls from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. The church has its own food pantry and handles its own deliveries.
As the food is delivered attention is paid to the genuine need of the family. Experience has shown that very few families call without good reason. The FISH program (F-friendly, I-immediate, S-sympathetic, H-help) is meeting a genuine need in the community.
First Baptist Directors of FISH through the years have been: Buz and Lisa Thomas, Richard and Karen Smith, Tom and Becky Jackson and Billy Wallace.
In July 1984, First Baptist began a cooperative program with Wallace Memorial, Sevier Heights and Calvary Baptist Churches to take advantage of The American Christian Television System (ACTS). The TV dish was located in the parking lot behind Fellowship Hall, and two Sunday School classrooms were converted into a control room.
Four months later the ACTS equipment was in operation. The receiving dish on the church's rear parking lot feeds the satellite signal of the ACTS Network into the Telescripps Cable System throughout Knox County.
�The nine members of the Family Life Committee work with Rev. Bob Money, Minister of Counseling and Family Life, to focus attention on all aspects of family life. They offer enrichment opportunities and promote special weeks of focus on family problems and possibilities.
Each year since 1984 the Family Life Committee has recognized a church member "exhibiting the true spirit of senranthood" by awarding the Trula Dunlap Service Award. The award was named for Trula Dunlap in recognition of her outstanding service. A plaque naming each year's winner is displayed outside the church library56. In 1985 Mrs. Alberta Sisk, who had been church librarian for twenty-seven years, retired. Mrs. Dean Sanders became Library Director and has held that position for the last seven years. Assistant Director Kay Reed and a staff of eight assist in operating the library.
At present the church library is open before Sunday School and until the worship service begins. It is open again on Wednesday afternoon at 430. It is an active part of Vacation Bible School, as all classes come to the library for at least one visit during this week.
Book reviews by the librarian are a popular part of Adult Options on Wednesday nights. Dean Sanders schedules a visit to each adult Sunday School department's opening assembly to present a library-related program. All children's Sunday School classes come to the library for a story at some time during the year. The JOY Group has a special Library Day each year. First Baptist library's two strongest areas are local history and children's literature. The collection of interesting books continues to grow and is well used by the congregation. Vacation Bible School at First Baptist is an annual summertime activity for children three years through twelve years. Average enrollment is 120 in eleven departments with a staff of fifty. The first mention of Vacation Bible School in the church minutes was in 1938. It has been held annually for fifty-four years. For a period in the 1980s Vacation Bible School was scheduled as a nighttime activity and included �young people and adults. Attendance was larger, but there were fewer children being served, so the church returned to a daytime schedule.
First Baptist is a singing congregation who appreciates good church music and encourages an active music program throughout the church. The 50- member sanctuary choir is an all-volunteer group and sings each week at the 11 A.M. service. During the 1970s and 1980s the choir sang at the 8:30 service as well. Soloists continue to be featured at both morning services. The choir rehearses every Wednesday evening from 7:30 to 9 P.M. Jon and Nancy Burnett are recognized for the longest term of membership in the choir.
Approximately one hundred of First Baptist's children (from three years old through senior high school) participate in the six children's choirs. Two Preschool Choirs, two Music Maker Groups, Young Musicians and the Youth Choir meet each Wednesday night. Eugene Hattaway directs the Youth Choir. The other choirs are directed by volunteers.
The turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention became a real concern of First Baptist members. Dr. Watterson provided calm leadership for the church during this difficult time of contention between "moderate" and "fundamental" factions and helped members understand the difference between the two.
In 1990 a concert by Mr. Albin Whitworth, concert pianist, recognized the splendid new sanctuary Steinway, a gift from family members to honor the memory of Carlton and Maude Dobbs. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous church member a system was installed in our sanctuary in 1990 for the hearing-impaired. The small, portable units (similar to a "Walkman") can be used anywhere in the sanctuary and are available on loan without charge. Members contact Eugene Hattaway to reserve a unit and pick it up from the usher as they enter the sanctuary. The original gift was three units. The church now has six units in use.
According to current Woman's Missionary Union President Mary Hutson the purpose of that organization is unchanged since 1880. The women (1) study missions, teach missions and keep the church aware, (2) support missions with prayer and money and (3) are active in mission work (Home �Missions, Foreign Missions, State and County Missions). Education and action are the primary purposes, though the emphasis may shift from year to year. The Woman's Missionary Union has grown from a small group early in the church history to a graded organization of over 300 women and girls of all ages. The youngest girls are called Mission Friends. GA's and Acteens are other young people's groups. Baptist Young Women and Baptist Women complete the organization.
For many years the Woman's Missionary Union was divided into "circles." Old timers will remember the Emily Mahan Circle for young matrons and the Nona Brown Circle for brides. Now the grouping is by interests, though many of the groups overlap in their activities. Groups in the Day Baptist Women's framework are Book Review, Mission Action, Prayer, Current Missions and Bible Study. There is also a Night Baptist Women's Group.
The WMU emphasizes the church's special mission offerings: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the September offering for Golden State Missions. One church-wide mission project that was spearheaded by the WMU in 1984 is now called the Judy Russell House and operates as a Safe House for women in need. The house on Tulip street was given by a First Baptist member to Volunteer Helpers, but the seventy-year-old house was virtually rebuilt and made livable by First Baptist members over a two-year period.
Judy Russell was the driving force behind the college students, young marrieds, Sunday School classes and many others who painted, papered, rewired and furnished the house. The house was opened in 1986 (complete with pictures on the wall and linens in the closet) and named for Judy Russell in tribute to her dedication.
When the Mission Committee voted that First Baptist would sponsor refugees57 from troubled parts of the world, the WMU and other church groups rushed to help Four family groups and one young man on his own came to Knoxville at the church's invitation. They were from Rumania, Cambodia, Vietnam and Russia. The first arrived in 1985.
�As their families joined them, they adjusted to American life in different ways. Some have since moved to other parts of the nation. Leonte Leuciuc and his wife, Lenuta, joined First Baptist Church and continue to attend with their family.
In 1986 with the proposed development of the Whittle complex east of the church across Main Avenue, new parking arrangements became urgently necessary. The bank building just west of the church was being planned with a multi-story, city-owned parking garage beneath the bank.
First Baptist entered into an agreement with the city in 1988 that for an investment of $232,500 (part of the $565,000 received from the sale of the Main Avenue property) the church would have parking rights "forever" in the new garage at designated times. The church has free parking all day Sunday, Wednesday evenings and forty other days for special occasions as arranged (such as a revival week).
First Baptist also paid ($50,000) for the bridges that connect the garage and the church. The arrangement has been most appreciated by the congregation. To have under-cover parking and a covered walkway to the church door is a splendid convenience.
For almost a year First Baptist had been talking with the late Mr. Gene Monday about the possibility of purchasing property he owned that was located between the new parking garage and the Lord Lindsey Restaurant. Since the church was bound on three sides by the City-County Building, the Post Office and the Tennessee River, this was almost the only direction for �future growth. Mr. Monday was not interested in selling, until one morning in 1988 at 5:30 A.M, he called Dr. Watterson with a most unusual proposal. Mr. Monday was a regular TV watcher of the First Baptist service and had a strong interest in helping young people. His proposal reflected both his keen desire to be helpful and his shrewd business sense.
The plan was this: The church would pay Joe Fielden $80,000 for his interest in the property. Mr. Monday would then give the church his mortgage on the property ($488,000), if the church would take $475,000 and invest it in a mission trust. His stipulation on the income from this investment was that it must be spent on mission work. Bob Chandler, Deacon Chairman at that time, with Dr. Watterson, Jack Nelson and Mont Egerton, met many hours with Mr. Monday to clarify intent and details. And the plan has worked very well.
First Baptist Church borrowed $330,000 and, with $160,000 that was available from the earlier property sale, created the Monday Family Trust. Part of this money is invested in a manner that will compound through the years. Approximately $475,000 is invested to provide annual income.
At the Trustees' recommendation, the first ten percent of this income is put back faithfully into the principal each year in order that the fund may grow. From the rest of the income the church has approximately $35,000 a year to spend on mission work.
Of the original note about $150,000 remains to be paid. The property has been paved and leased as a parking lot, for which the church gets some income as well. Mr. Monday's generous gift, and the responsible development of his plan by the church, insures that First Baptist will have money for mission work far into the futures. First Baptist Church is a contributing member ($10,000 annually) of the Knox County Association of Baptists. This group of 153 Baptist Churches promotes cooperation among all Baptist Churches, helps smaller churches in the area, and sponsors activities such as Camp Ba-Yo-Ca.
At present, in 1992, First Baptist Church operates with an administrative staff of eight plus an organist and a pianist.
Morning worship is scheduled each Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. and Sunday School at 9:45 A.M. The eleven o'clock service is televised over W1OCT-TV Channel 8. This live television broadcast, which started on a regular basis in 1975, is widely watched and accepted by the membership as a church mission. No appeal has ever been made for contributions from the TV audience. The broadcast costs the church about $1,250 each Sunday under a three-year contract with Channel 8.
For the most part the TV cameras in the sanctuary are operated by church volunteers. There is a technician from the TV station in the control room (behind the balcony) each Sunday. The morning service is rebroadcast on Channel 12 on Tuesday afternoons at 4:30 P.M. The Sunday morning deaf service is taped to be broadcast on Channel 12 at 7 P.M. each Monday evening. Channel 12 operates as a public service channel and there is no charge for these broadcasts.
The Baptist Student Union at the University of Tennessee is a special interest of First Baptist Church. BSU Director Bob Hall is a member, and many of the college students are in the front center section of the sanctuary each Sunday. Eugene Hattaway directs the BSU choir. Nick Foster teaches a Bible Study Class at the BSU each Wednesday night. First Baptist supports the BSU financially and helps finance many of their mission trips. The WMU provides lunch for the students at intervals.
First Baptist's Ministry to the Deaf has responded to changes at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. At one time there were 400 children on campus each weekend. Now there are approximately eighty. A First Baptist bus goes to the school, and a van picks up people throughout the neighborhood. There are currently about 270 adults and children in the Deaf Department.
Counseling has become a significant part of Dr. Jerry Seale's work with the deaf, Parents of deaf children often seek help, and there is a real need for marriage and family counseling among the deaf, First Baptist Church is proud �of its 112-year history of working with the deaf in the community and remains strongly committed to this work.
In 1992, the administrative organization of the church recognizes fifty active Deacons6°, three Trustees61, a church Treasurer6i (Russell E. Allen) and church Clerk (Glenn Sloan). The three Trustees, whose job is primarily to sign for the church when legal transactions are made, are Jon Burnett (chairman), Jon Roach and Mont Egerton.
The church's fifty deacons are elected to serve five-year terms as voting members on the Board of Deacons. Rotation is provided in that after that term a deacon must stay off the active board for two years before becoming active again. But the designation as a deacon stands and, active or inactive, all the deacons are involved in church affairs. At present nine of the fifty deacons are women.
The church still has five lifetime Deacons: Martin Baker, Dexter Chtistenbeny, Raiford Dean, Roy Cruze and Luther Wallace. Eight major committees are organized around church activities. Each is chaired by a Deacon and has approximately fifteen members who serve three-year terms. The committees are: Finance, Missions, Personnel, Worship, Facilities, Education, Planning and the newly created Denominational Relations. Recently a Church Council has been added. This is a coordinating group made up of these eight committee chairmen and other church leaders.
Two deacons are appointed each week to be "Deacon of the Week." Among their responsibilities, they are to be greeters at the front door, visit the hospitals and be a contact for new members who join the church that week.
In 1987 the church started a Family Ministry Plan, chaired by Sam Jack, in which each deacon was to be responsible for several church families. At present seventy-three deacons, both active and inactive, along with nine volunteers from the congregation are involved in this ministry. It is recognized that the women deacons have been especially effective in this area. Some of the nine volunteers are women as well.
�Knowing the importance of Christian education, Baptists have been historically strong supporters of Sunday School for the entire congregation. As early as 1845, Knoxville's First Baptist Church had a Sunday School, which is considered the first in any east Tennessee Baptist Church. After the Civil War, the church's Sunday School quickly regained its strength and in 1868 was selected as the "Banner Sunday School of the State."
Today at First Baptist, there are six departments in the Adult Division of Sunday School, as well as classes for Single Adults, the Shalom Class, Deaf Adult Class and a class for College Students. The Youth Division covers grades seven through twelve including a Deaf Class. The Children's Division covers grades one through six and also includes a Deaf Class. The preschool Division has four groups for children under two, and individual groups for two-, three-, four- and five-year-olds.
Jack Nelson is currently Sunday School Director and Maynard Tribble, Minister of Education, is the staff member most directly responsible for Sunday School organization. The Adult Sunday School Classes staff the Share and Care Center on Thursday nights. Recently they have made it a priority to buy underclothes for the center, since that is a badly needed item that is seldom donated. Most classes annually fill a Thanksgiving basket for a needy family. Many classes have been taking one day a month to buy, prepare and serve a meal to approximately 120 men at a downtown mission.
The newest church mission activity is a Construction Ministry with Bob Hall and Joe Petre as co-chairmen. A survey in the church bulletin drew a response of forty members who expressed an interest in doing construction work where needed. The group decided to first test their skills by renovating the Share and Care Center which now has new shelves and fresh paint. �There is actually no end to the story of service and dedication of First Baptist Church members, but all books must end. In the future the church will adjust, change and continue to be a vital force in the city of Knoxville. First Baptist Church members are well aware of their "proud past", firmly committed to their "dedicated present" and certainly "looking to the future." �
- The Future of Knoxville's Past: Historic and Architectural Resources in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Knoxville Historic Zoning Commission, October, 2006), page 24.
- First Baptist Church Website: Home
- First Baptist Church website: History
- jonSpot's flickr image of First Baptist
- National Register of Historic Places